On a recent shopping trip to a well-known fast fashion retailer I decided to try-on a few things. Since fitting rooms are my thing I always approach the fitting room area with great anticipation. I have a mental checklist that I work through as I proceed through the fitting room process.
Upon entering the fitting room area I was pleased to be greeted by a smiling attendant. The area was large so it was easy to maneuver around other customers on the way to an open fitting room. Unfortunately that was pretty much the end of my good experience.
Upon entering my fitting room I was blinded by a glaring overhead light and even though there was a lot of light, I could barely see. As I hung my clothes up I realized that the fitting room was painted jet black! I found that pretty peculiar, but not until I tried on the first outfit did I realize how bad an idea it really was.
I’m not a designer, an artist, or anyone who understands color, but I can tell you that a black fitting room does nothing to help me, a customer, look good. It seemed to absorb the light and made it hard to see myself in the mirror and what I did see wasn’t good! It created shadows that made me look sallow and it was impossible to see what the outfits really looked like. My buying decisions were; no, no, and no. When I left the fitting room I noticed other shoppers making the same decision and piling their rejected items on the table in front of the smiling fitting room attendant.
The sad thing about it is that some designer thought that painting the entire fitting room area black was a really great idea! The fitting room color was edgy, hip, and cool, but it didn’t make their customers look edgy, hip, and cool. It made me look scary, weird, and very uncool. And there’s the problem, the customer is often left out of the decision process when it comes to fitting room design.
Professional designers do know the ins and outs of color and how it makes people look and feel. Shame on them for choosing fitting room colors that don’t keep the customer and their experience at the front of the design process. Funky and edgy colors may make your fitting rooms look fabulous, but make sure they make your customers look fabulous while they’re making their buying decisions. Ultimately, the customers do get the final say when they reject the retailers offering because of how it makes them look. But is the fitting room experience ever rightfully blamed by the retailer or other experts? I don’t think so.
I’m often asked what constitutes a good fitting room from a customer point of view that would take into consideration things like size, color, and environment. This is the first in a series of blogs on what I think about each element of fitting room design and the impact each has on the overall customer experience in the fitting room.
First up is size. Size matters! Unfortunately, there is no standard size fitting room. Sizes range from a box about the size of a phone booth (remember those?) which are so small they make you lean up against the door when trying on, or the curtained ones that your butt pokes out as your balancing on one foot, to eerily large rooms that make you feel isolated and deserted.
Last there are the ‘gang fitting rooms’ that are so horrible they should be illegal. There is nothing worse than standing half naked in a fitting room bay full of other half naked women pretending that the other one doesn’t exist and no one’s looking.
What appears to dictate size is the type of retailer. Discounters are generally tiny, and the size usually grows with the price tags – but not always. Some architects try to jam as many fitting rooms as possible into the designated fitting room area without much thought about function or consistency of size. Even within the same fitting room bank the rooms can vary significantly.
What constitutes a good sized fitting room? It should be large enough to fit your customer and a reasonable amount of their stuff (purse & shopping bags), and something to put their stuff on, to sit on, and to lay their clothes on while they are trying on their selections. People need room to take off their clothes and put yours on comfortably. If you offer ‘big & tall’ items, be sure your fitting rooms can accommodate a ‘big & tall’ customer!
It should also be large enough so that when they have successfully undressed and are attempting to make a decision about what to buy; they have enough room to look into the mirror from a reasonable distance and see themselves. This will not only make them feel more comfortable, it will also help them make their buying decision final in the store instead of taking the items home and trying them on to make their decision.
If you don’t make your fitting rooms fit for your customers, they’ll work around them by taking their selections home to try and buy. And there’s the rub, taking items home increases returns, kills margin, and destroy comps.
So the next time you think about redoing your fitting room, remember, size does matter!
by Marge Laney
Fitting rooms and their service, as well as how to outfit and staff them, are passions of mine.
That’s why I was excited to be included in the article in the Wall Street Journal about fitting rooms yesterday.
As I was reading the story though, I had to re-check the date at the top of the page because it sure sounded like it was 1995 all over again. The writer focused once again on why making fitting rooms productive is so elusive for the brick and mortar apparel retailers.
Why is keeping the dressing room area free of dirt and dust too much for some, while others think a laser focus on tweaking paint colors, adding couches and posters will ‘seduce’ customers? All under the misnomer of service?
Why wasn’t the importance of the fitting room in relation to sales and other performance metrics the true story in the WSJ rather than an episode of HGTV for dressing room chic?
Should making the fitting room area inviting and clean be a priority? Absolutely!
Will making the fitting room area inviting and clean sell merchandise? Absolutely not! Yes the design aesthetics of the fitting room should complement the rest of the store, but chandeliers don’t sell!
Our studies at Alert Technologies show that guys don’t use fitting rooms when they know they can’t get service. But when you give a guy a sales associate feeding them clothes in the fitting room – they’ll stay there for hours.
Better yet, give a guy a call button to call an associate to help with sizes, colors, or just an opinion and they’ll use it often and without invitation! The men’s clothing segment is the fastest growing segment in 2011. Are you really going to use 1995 thinking to capture them? No!
The problem for most retailers in their pursuit of excellence in the fitting room is that either no one in their organization owns the fitting room experience, or it’s owned by the store designers.
Let me make this clear: Design is not service.
Nobody’s paycheck depends on how well their fitting room strategy performs.
It’s nobody’s job to buy fitting room technology.
No one really knows what percent of their store traffic uses the fitting room. Or how long the typical customer stays. Or how many times they’ve received service. And why is that?
It’s nobody’s job to know. Hence…
According to Envision Retail in the WSJ article:
- Customers who try on clothes in fitting rooms have a conversion rate of 67%.
- Customers who don’t use the fitting rooms have only a 10% conversion rate.
- Shoppers who use the fitting rooms spend a third of their in-store time there.
Driving customers to the fitting room and keeping them there with service and selling strategies should be job one for associates.
Hoping that customers wander in because the poster on the wall encourages them, or the lounge chairs offer a comfortable rest stop for hubby, is a lousy strategy.
Look I get it, payrolls are stressed. But with the right payroll allocation and technology that helps with the control and service of the fitting room area, it can be done.
Brick-and-mortar is stuck. Technology that supports the fitting room experience is practically non-existent – that must change. And that’s why our company does what it does with technology and training.
Please stop calling store design customer service.
Let’s make someone’s paycheck depend on how good the fitting room service strategy is. And how well it’s executed.
Embrace your fitting rooms as a conversion tool, because if you don’t a competitor will.
Marge Laney is President of Alert Technologies, a technology manufacturer and consultancy that is focused on customer facing service technology for retail. Call her to discuss your fitting room needs at 281-326-9900.
by Marge Laney
Back in 2003 Envision Retail published research that confirmed –
“The fitting room customer is 71% likely to buy versus the customer who browses the sales floor at 28%”. They further declared that this proved that getting customers into the fitting room was good for business.
Recently, Envision updated this statistic and now states –
“Conversion of customers in the fitting rooms is 67% compared to those who do not use the fitting rooms of only 10%, making the fitting rooms the most commercially valuable space in the store”!
There has been an 18% decrease in the likelihood of the browser buying from 2003 to today!
That’s significant! And begs the question; Why?
Could it be lack of traffic?
Overall traffic has trended down over the period of time, but I don’t believe that would impact the likelihood of purchase once inside the store.
I believe the reason is the internet.
Consumers no longer need to leave the comfort of their home to browse and purchase. Free shipping and easy return policies make shopping a breeze if there is no immediate need for the product.
This isn’t all bad and it’s definitely not going to change. Retailers need to be where their customers are. Smart phones and all the mobile technology have expanded shopping opportunities and changed the retail landscape beyond recognition.
Consumers access information and purchase products in different ways depending on their location and need. It is essential for successful retailers to understand who their customers are and how they choose to interact with their brand and make it easy.
The important take away for the brick and mortar apparel retailer is that even though the browser is shopping in a different way, the customer who uses the fitting room is not.
Fitting rooms and those customers who use them, are the reason they will continue to exist.
Customers who traditionally visit stores, buy without trying on, and return what doesn’t fit are abandoning this shopping routine in favor of online shopping from home.
The 2011 customer who makes the trip to the mall is a more committed customer, and they are there to buy.
While creating and implementing a memorable fitting room service experience may not be sexy or cutting edge, it will sell merchandise, which is the point. Isn’t it?
by Marge Laney
The last chapter is closing on Holiday 2010 with the release of the January retail sales figures. It was pretty much as we all expected, maybe a little stronger than some had guessed, but overall pretty good for most retailers.
Limited Brands, however, blew it out with strong comps and margin improvement throughout the season. Ending it up with their January performance off the charts with a 24% comp increase company wide, and Victoria’s Secret turning in a 35% comp increase (up against a 17% increase in January 2009); no small feat.
The analysts credit their success to the right product at the right price.
I agree that having compelling product that is priced correctly is crucial, but I think that’s far from the whole story of their success. Nor can their remarkable increase be credited only to a mobile app, kiosk, or discounts (their semi-annual sale took place in January) although they utilize all of these.
What I believe separates them by such a wide margin from the rest of the apparel retail pack is that they wrap all of those right moves they make in product, pricing, and marketing in an in-store experience that is personal, efficient, and consistent across the brand.
When you walk into a Victoria’s Secret you are met by sales associates who know the product and are trained and managed to service their customers from the moment they enter the store to the moment they leave.
On the sales floor they engage with each customer and encourage a fitting room visit where their specialists take over and provide an attentive, knowledgeable experience which in many cases results in a purchase. The cash wrap experience is efficient and appreciative.
Some apparel retailers say that selling underwear warrants special attention and fitting room service, therefore the model doesn’t apply to them. I say baloney! For non-apparel retailers door traffic and sales floor engagement are where the action is. The sales floor is where their customers “try-on” their products and the buying decision is made.
But, for the apparel retailer fitting room traffic and fitting room engagement is where their opportunities lie. The customer who uses the fitting room is 67% likely to buy, versus the customer who shops the sales floor at 10%.
Engaging the customer on the sales floor, driving them to the fitting room, and servicing them efficiently and knowledgeably in the fitting room should be in every apparel retailer’s playbook. For the apparel retailer conversion takes place in the fitting room!
The secret of Victoria’s Secret success is no secret. Simply put, they understand that an in-store experience wrapped in knowledgeable personal service may not be the newest or sexiest strategy, but without it they become just another retailer relying on discounts and gimmicks which ultimately commoditize their products and render their brand forgettable.
Lot’s of retailers sell sexy underwear, but with more than 50% of the market in North America, and unparralled growth Victoria’s Secret is unforgettably the brand to emulate or ignore at your own peril.
by Marge Laney
The word on everyone’s lips today in retail is margin. From the gurus on Wall Street, to the management teams steering the ships of big retail, everyone’s preaching, ‘Enough with the cuts already!’ ‘We need top line growth and margin improvement!’ So why is it when I walk my local mall and enter almost any store I’m greeted with “Hi, welcome to fill-in-the-blank! Check out our buy-one, get-one stuff and our 40% off whatever!” Or my favorite, “…we just did a whole bunch of new markdowns, come check them out!”
I’m not speaking to discount self service retail here. They know who they are and they pay for their service model with margin. I’m talking about the retailers who preach that they do put customer service first and attempt to provide personal service to their customers in the name of adding value which translates to higher margin.
I did a training recently and had the opportunity to ask the sales associates what margin was. Not one of them had a clue, but they all were aware that it was something that they needed to improve. For those of you who don’t know, margin is profit. Markdown’s destroy profit and eat up payroll that could and should be allocated to customer facing time to sell merchandise when it is fresh instead of sucking up that payroll on processing markdowns. Sure, margin can be boosted by cutting SG&A (read payroll), but retail is pretty much done with that. They’ve rung all the available fat out of their P&L for the most part.
The funny thing is that everybody in these organizations knows that the customer should come first and that the sales associate time is better spent connecting with the customer and selling. So why don’t they just do it? There are a million reasons why most don’t and they all make sense to somebody, but a couple of retailers are doing it and reaping the benefits. One of them is J. Crew. Mickey Drexler, CEO of J. Crew, is quoted in a recent WWD Article and gives insight into their formula for success; “We are and will continue to be focused on our mission — to innovate in our design, style, quality and customer service and to invest in our business, our associates and our customers for the long term…” J. Crew posted strong first quarter results with net income and gross margin up significantly across the board. J. Crew associates are true brand advocates; they connect with their customers personally to provide service and sell, they don’t task.
I challenge all retailers who preach margin growth to put their in-store customer service strategies and their payroll allocation where their mouth is and provide the customer with the service and experience they advertise. Select your front-line associates based on their ability not their availability, train them to be the knowledgeable brand advocates that deliver your message to every customer, give them standards and goals and monitor them, and offer tangible rewards for success. And above all let them do the job you hired them to do – deliver the brand promise personally, and hire other non-sales people to process shipments, execute plan-o-grams, clean, and process a lot fewer markdowns.
by Marge Laney
Last week, I was training a group of managers at a large chain retailer to use our fitting room service system we had just installed when one of them asked, “This makes it so much easier for us and better for our customers.
Why isn’t this system everywhere?”
This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked this question, and it always makes me cringe a little bit. And although our customer list includes some pretty impressive retailers, it’s the one question that bothers me because way back in 1995 when we launched I thought the system would become ubiquitous.
What I’ve learned over the years is that this system is not for every retailer with fitting rooms. This system requires a firm commitment to fitting room customer service backed up by a well defined, well executed, and well monitored fitting room service strategy.
Break room posters, marketing slogans, and corporate memos espousing commitment to great service don’t cut it here; I’m talking a top to bottom “how to” strategy for servicing the fitting room customer. So that knocks plenty of retailers out right there.
For those that are good candidates for the system, some will argue that they don’t need service technology because the sales associates are always right there in the fitting room. I’m not exactly sure what that means or how just being “right there” solves the connection problem because there’s still a whole row of closed doors between the customers and the associates.
They fail to see that the problem is not the sales associate’s ability to access the customer in the fitting room; they can knock on the fitting room door anytime! The problem is the customer’s inability to access the sales associate when they need something, a very big difference!
Think about it, when you’re in most fitting rooms you can connect with a friend in another city on your cell phone faster than you can connect with a sales associate ten feet away!
A customer in the fitting room should be given every opportunity to access a sales associate easily because they constitute the best opportunity for a sale. There are only two reasons customers enter fitting rooms…
to make a buying decision, or steal something!
With sales associates in and out of the fitting room area connecting with customers and answering service requests this increases the likelihood that customers will buy and decreases theft.
But when you require your customers to schlep in and out of the fitting room servicing themselves, you run the risk that they will get discouraged and leave rather than take the time to find what they like.
It’s just bad business to leave customers with no easy way to connect.
Our solution is inexpensive, simple to use, and convenient for both the sales associate and the customer. It also provides important data, including individual fitting room load and visit data that when viewed as a subset of store traffic gives insight into service strategy execution.
Monitoring load metrics gives feedback on how successful each store is in reaching load goals which tie directly to conversion.
So why isn’t this system everywhere?
Why is it so hard to convince corporate management that it is not a good idea to lock fitting rooms without giving customers an easy way to connect with a sales associate to open one?
Or to let customers wander into a fitting room unattended and not give them a way to connect with the sales associates when they need something?
Or my personal favorite; arm the sales associates with a great service strategy and require that they become mind readers and door knockers to figure out when their fitting room customers need something!
The Bottom line; the customer is trying to buy why make it difficult?
© Alert Technologies, Inc. 2009
by Marge Laney
What is the most important conversion area in apparel retail? Answer: The Fitting Room. What area in brick and mortar apparel is the least serviced? Answer: The Fitting Room.
The “why” of the first question is inherent in the fact that if a customer uses a fitting room they are 71% more likely to buy than if they simply browse the sales floor. Add to that the fact that the customer who uses the fitting room will on average buy twice what the browser buys. And, if they are serviced while in the fitting room they will buy almost three times what the browser buys. Those are some pretty compelling statistics! And, by the way, there is only a 28% chance that the browser will buy anything. And we’re not going to even talk about what browsers buy and then return because of fit issues.
So that leaves the “why” of the second fact. Why is the fitting room area so underserviced? First of all, many retailers will say that that just simply is not true. They have created elaborate fitting room service strategies aimed at all the right targets: improved customer experience, increased conversion, increased ADS, and UPT’s. Other retailers seem to be oblivious of the importance of the fitting room and view it instead as a necessary evil and a loss prevention nightmare. They view all customers as potential thieves and run their fitting rooms accordingly.
The customer, however, views it from a very different perspective. Their fitting room experience begins and ends from inside the fitting room walls. That experience can run the gamut from a very luxurious and pampered experience to an experience that is demeaning and filthy. But, no matter where the retailer falls on the continuum, one thing is true in most fitting rooms: the customer has no hassle-free dignified way to contact and connect with the sales associate once they are inside.
Let’s first look at the retailer that has a great service strategy for the fitting room. They have trained their associates to drive traffic to the fitting room, they have weekly wardrobing classes that train associates to help their customer find the right outfit for any occasion, and they have created talking points to help associates establish a connection with the shopper and to bring out their shopping needs and desires. But, once inside the fitting room that connection is lost. To connect again requires the associate to knock on the door hopefully at the moment the customer is in need of service. Hope, in this case, is a lousy strategy.
I often hear from retailers that they view access technology as a barrier to personalized service. I simply don’t understand that logic. Door knocking is less than 2% effective in connecting an associate with the customer when the customer is in need of service, and customers find it annoying! It is also the first thing that stops happening when the store gets busy. And the poor customer has less control than the associate! Other than peeking out the door in hopes of making eye contact with a passing associate, the customer has no way of accessing the service they have been sold and long to experience.
Another thing I often hear from retailers is “Prove to me that giving the customer access to service from the fitting will help us sell more.” Here’s a stat for you: 97% of all customers have redressed and left a store without taking the time to find the right size or color of an item they wanted to buy. No matter what your philosophy on fitting rooms, that statistic is a direct result of lack of customer access to service, and has direct and negative impact on the bottom line.
So the next time you review your fitting room customer service strategy ask yourself this; How will our fitting room customer access our great service once inside the fitting room? And, can we afford it?
© Alert Technologies, Inc. 2009
“Retailers often confuse customer service with one-on-one personal attention. In fact, the more innovative the program, adding quicker customer service technologies, the more likely a customer is to remember and revisit a store.” – Store Manager, Victoria’s Secret, NYC
Everyone’s been there. You’re cold, half-naked and alone, and you’re wondering where your clothes are. You step outside in search of solace to find three other partially-dressed women in the same predicament. Sound like a nightmare? Unfortunately, it’s a reality, and it’s happening in retail store fitting rooms every single day.
Shopping just shouldn’t be this hard or this scary. All we’re asking for is a little customer service and one size bigger in the jeans with the gold stitching on the back pocket. Instead, we’re forced to leave the jeans undone, put our sweater on backward and sprint around the store barefoot, or resign ourselves to the more likely scenario – calling this shopping trip a loss and leaving empty-handed.
Frankly, it’s time all the self-respecting shoppers took a stand against fitting room abuse. For an industry that prides itself on forward thinking and cutting-edge ideas, there is no reason we should have to put up with this any longer. The worst part is, there is a solution to our problem, and it’s been around since 1996. So why are we still subjecting ourselves to this?
Get turned on…
Bringing the retail experience into the 21st century one store at a time, Alert Technologies pioneer, shopping enthusiast and pro-fitting room service activist, Marge Laney, has already had success with Victoria’s Secret, American Eagle and Gap.
Her system is specifically designed for each store, but with you (the customer) in mind. Just imagine: You’re trying on a dress, and it doesn’t zip, leaving you, well… indecent. You press a button from INSIDE your room, and the associate is notified you need help. You don’t have to open the door and expose yourself, and you don’t have to wait. Plus, you won’t get bothered with that startling rap at the door when you don’t need help – like when you haven’t even had time to take your shoes off.
It’s time to demand an upgrade. It’s simple. If stores don’t turn you on, they turn you off.